Friday, January 4, 2013

A Wonderfully Difficult Film: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

"Watch this film or else!"
"You can't make me!"

I think everyone has those great films that they just can't find time for.  Sure, it may have a great Metacritics score and be on umpteen lists on icheckmovies and it may be at the top of your List of Shame-- heck, you may own it and Bill Thompson may have dictated it to you two years ago-- but still you haven't gotten around to watching it.

And you don't know why.  Something about the film just seems unpleasant or difficult and you just never seem to be in the right mood or frame of mind to tackle it.  Netflix may have a fantastic rating for you, all your movie buddies can tell you that you will love this film, but it still seems like a bitter pill to swallow. 

And this is the way I felt about this film adapted from a play which won five Academy Awards.  Seeing Richard Burton and Liz Taylor at their most bitter for more than two hours didn't have my idea of a good time stamped all over it.  But for some reason, as miserable as I felt last night, it was the night to watch this film I'd been avoiding.

First of all, let me say that the film deserved every award it received.  Richard Burton was a dream.  I was swooning every time he spoke and wished that Liz would just shut up and let him speak.  Never mind that the bitterest, nastiest speeches were his, I would listen to them again if only to let him speak.   Having seen a few other Taylor performances, this was eye-opening to me as well.  Her spleen-bursting shrieks were horrible, but full of gleeful disregard of public decency. 

But the two performances take a back seat to the art and cinematography.  The black and white is some of the most beautiful I have seen, and it is a wonder to behold, even without nature or unique art to look at.  Instead, the everyday is turned into art, albeit of a disturbing nature.

However, all my concerns were right.  Never has there been a more thorough rape of character's personalities by other characters.  This movie breaks one of my cardinal sins of movies: "A movie must not make every character so thoroughly dislikable that there is no one to sympathize with."  Sweet Smell of Success was able to break this rule while still gaining my complete praise, but WAoVW must receive a slap on the wrist for it.  Must there be almost no sympathy?  Must every character be vivisected and we nod with clear agreement?  I believe that Burton and Taylor must have been divorced so many times because every time they watched this film, they must have wondered "How could ANYONE live with this wretch of a human being?"

Needless to say, this is a difficult film.  A tough one for me to recommend it, actually.  But recommend it I do, to those who love great film.  For this deserves the title "American classic" as difficult as it is.  I can't give it full marks because my enjoyment was certainly limited.  But my admiration for the filmmaking-- directing, acting, script and cinematography-- is at it's highest.

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